Fringe Box



Opinion: Why I Can’t Continue To Be A Councillor

Published on: 19 Apr, 2015
Updated on: 24 Apr, 2015
Cllr Zoe Franklin

Cllr Zoe Franklin

By Zoe Franklin

22 councillors are standing down at the forthcoming election, most probably because they wish to retire from the role, but when The Guildford Dragon heard that one of them was Zoe Franklin (Lib Dem, Stoke), a younger councillor, with obvious ability, who was already making her mark, we were surprised and asked her to explain why.

I only agreed to becoming a councillor reluctantly. Originally I had said no but gradually, persuaded that it would enable me to serve my local community, “to make a difference”, I agreed.

I had been assured that being a councillor only takes up as much time as you allow it to but I quickly learnt that while that statement is technically true – for me it wasn’t.

Becoming a councillor opens your eyes to a whole raft of issues that you never even realised were there and once the job gets under your skin your desire to serve your community means you will find yourself allowing more and more time for council work – not because you have to, certainly not because you’re paid to but because you want to.

For me, and many others, being a councillor is a labour of love – with a good deal of frustration thrown in for good measure.

But after nearly seven years as the councillor for Bellfields, Weyfield and Slyfield, that make up the electoral ward of Stoke, I feel I have to call it a day. I took the difficult decision to stand down from the council earlier this year and I’m doing so for two main reasons.

Firstly, it’s for my family’s sake. I know it’s a political cliche to say I’m standing down to spend more time with my family but for me, a mother of two young children, it happens to be true.

With a sport-mad seven-year-old, and a four-year-old who’d really rather be doing something completely different to his brother, there are new demands on my time as both my husband and I support them in their endeavours.

My eldest son has daily reading and homework too which we struggle to get done once we’ve picked up daddy from the station, then I’m out the door to one meeting or another, two or three nights a week.

There’s also the simple fact that being out that many nights a week, plus weekend events, has presented challenges for my marriage. The evenings and weekends are on top of the daytime hours I put in.

Secondly, I simply can’t afford to be a councillor financially, any more. In order to carry out my role properly I easily clock up 10-15 hours per week on casework, council meetings, events and meetings in my ward, reading and email. That’s the equivalent of a part time job – but for the privilege I get an allowance of about £4,700.

In recent years I have been a chairman of a scrutiny committee. This has given me an additional allowance of £2,500 but with it has come additional work. For me there has never been the option of working a properly paid part time job, if I did I would have to cut back significantly on council work and I wasn’t prepared to do that.

Over the past seven years the cost of living has gone up but my husband’s wage has not kept up. My allowance is not able to fill the gap, so I just have to go back out to work to help make ends meet.

Community safety warden for Stoke Garry Jones, pictured with Cllr Zoe Franklin and Nikki King at the Moggy Pond in Bellfields. Garry has been working with the local community in the makeover project of the pond.

Cllr Zoe Franklin with local resident Nikki King and community safety warden Garry Jones photographed by Moggy Pond in Bellfields. The makeover of the pond was just one of the community projects with which Zoe was involved.

I write all this not for sympathy but to start a discussion. There’s a lot of people who think local politics is an easy job, that we’re all on the take or that the role should be done out of the goodness of your heart.

I can categorically say that the first two are totally incorrect. As for the third I agree to a point – local political involvement should be driven by a desire to help and improve your local community, not a desire to get paid.

But when people are put off standing or seeking re-election as a councillor because they cannot afford to, since the council allowance will not sufficiently recompense them for the time they will not be able to work, we need to take stock.

Guildford’s basic councillor allowance is amongst the lowest in the country and the cost of its 48 councillors accounts for less than a single per cent of the council’s annual budget.

Serving as a councillor must not be allowed to become the preserve of only those who can afford it. That is not the way it should be in a healthy democracy.

We need people from across the spectrum of age, education and work background, ethnicity and family circumstances.

If the council doesn’t have this mix in its elected councillors Guildford will not have a council that truly reflects the community it serves. Surely that would be wrong and surely something should be done to prevent it happening, if it hasn’t already.

See also:

Letter: Councillor Franklin Deserves Thanks – She Stood For Her Own Ward

Letter: Councillors Should Not Expect A Living Wage

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Responses to Opinion: Why I Can’t Continue To Be A Councillor

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 20, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I have strongly disagreed with some or many of Zoe Franklin’s decisions and those of the other retiring councillors, in the past but one thing is for sure, while many will disagree with the colour of your ‘flag’ few can disagree you deserve a great big thank you from the borough residents for simply taking up the sword of local politics and trying, in your own way, to improve our lot in life.

    So thank you for serving the community – it is a strain and a stress. May your families thrive and you return to the fray at a later date when they have flown the nest. Thank you.

    And don’t worry, I will shout loudly at the new incumbents too if they make the ‘wrong choices’.

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